I Found My Dad

Caption on the back of the original photo reads:
“1st Lt. William S. Leslie, 20 years old, Oct. 9 1943”
(Scanned image supplied by William F. Leslie)

Note: A slightly different version of this post can be found here.

This past weekend was big for me. I found my Dad.

In the past, I’ve blogged about wanting to find out more about what my late father did in World War II. This past weekend, I took the first concrete steps toward finding out.

Early Saturday morning I received a long-awaited e-mail from Craig Fuller of the Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) website that maintains a database of accident reports involving World War II aircraft. The e-mail contained a link to a page where I could download copies of two reports of two accidents involving my father, William Stewart Leslie, during his pilot training in World War II. The serial number of the “Leslie, William S.” in these reports matches exactly the serial number on a set of dog tags in my family’s possession, so I know this is my Dad. Now that I know for certain his rank and serial number and the group and squadron he was attached to at the time of the accidents, I can use these pieces of information to try and locate more details about his military service.

In the first accident, he was returning to Camp Campbell (now Fort Campbell), Kentucky after a routine cross-country training flight early on the morning of 15 August 1943. He landed about ten feet short of the end of the runway because the sun was in his eyes, and when he landed, the spindle supporting the left landing gear on his Bell P-39F AirCobra broke, causing the landing gear on that side to collapse. The board investigating the accident concluded:

Bell P-39F AirCobra with U. S. Army Air Forces Markings

Although pilot did land a few feet short of hard surfaced runway due to the fact that his visual judgment was hindered because he was landing into the sun at 0830 o’clock, it is not the opinion of the board that this fact would have been a factor in causing the landing gear to fail. It is a known fact that landing gear spindles on P-39 Airplanes are light and delicate. It is believed that spindle had Crystallized and cracked.

In the second accident, he was leaving Camp Campbell for another routine cross country training flight on the afternoon of 25 October 1943 when ice formed in the carburetor of his North American P-51 Mustang, causing a sudden and and complete engine failure. The official report reads:

North American P-51 Mustang

“After about 50 minutes of flying there was a tremendous backfire and engine failed. Pilot made crash landing, wheels up” in a farmer’s cornfield near Scottsville, Kentucky.

The board investigating the accident recommended “that pilots be directed to use full carburetor heat when atmospheric conditions indicate that moderate to severe icing conditions exist,” and “That WILLIAM S. LESLIE, 2nd Lt. Air Corps, Res., be relieved of all responsibility in this accident.”

I’m relieved to know that in both cases, the investigating boards concluded that Dad did not cause or was not directly responsible for the accident.  A pilot is always ultimately responsible for everything that happens on board his aircraft, but apparently in these cases there were mitigating circumstances. A severe enough accident might have caused Dad to wash out of pilot training, which I think might have broken his heart. Dad loved flying.

I admire his persistence, too. One accident is one thing, but after the second one, I would have considered the Quartermaster Corps or the Navy!

2 thoughts on “I Found My Dad

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